BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg issues stern warning to Boris over key vote on Universal Credit

Universal Credit: Kuenssberg warns debate won’t ‘disappear’

Boris Johnson will come under intense pressure to extend the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit when Labour forces a Commons vote on the planned cut today (Monday). The Prime Minister has been warned by his opposite number, Sir Keir Starmer, that millions of families will be £1,000 a year worse off if the Government scraps the increase. The Prime Minister is expected to instruct his MPs to abstain from the vote in a bid to kill the motion. But BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg warned the move may force another Government’s U-turn in March when the uplift will expire. 

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “There is pressure that the Labour Party and other opposition parties are cranking up to try and get the Government to sign on the dotted line to extend it.

“If they don’t, that will be a reduction for millions of families at a time when everybody hopes the restrictions on our lives and on the economy might wind back if all goes well with the vaccine rollout.

“But a hangover, the economy will still be around at that point, so there’s pressure on the Government to go on even though they absolutely don’t want to.

“And the Government is worried enough about today’s results that they’re telling their MPs to abstain because they are not confident of avoiding a defeat if they don’t.”

She added: “If it was just an Opposition Day debate, then it could easily be dismissed by the Government’s side as students politics saying ‘they’re just messing around, they just want to have their day’.

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“The fact is the Government knows that if its own MPs were involved, there might be some of them voting with the Opposition, potentially even enough to defeat them. So in ordering their MPs to stay out of it, they’re trying to avoid that embarrassment, but that doesn’t make this issue disappear.”

Boris Johnson is facing calls to extend the uplift from Tory MPs as the Northern Research Group (NRG) said ending it now would be “devastating”.

In a statement issued on behalf of the 65 MPs in the group, Carlisle MP John Stevenson said it had been a “life-saver” for people through the pandemic.

The statement added: “That is why the NRG are once again calling on the Chancellor to extend the Universal Credit uplift until restrictions are lifted, to ensure that individuals and families who have been worst affected by this pandemic are supported through our recovery with the security they need.”

Labour leader Sir Keir said that failing to give families a “helping hand” through the coronavirus pandemic would “slow our economic recovery as we come out of it”.

The Government temporarily increased the benefit to help families through the Covid crisis, but the uplift is due to expire in April, potentially hitting the incomes of six million families.

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Labour will use its opposition day debate in the Commons on Monday afternoon to force a vote on the plans. Conservative MPs are expected to abstain.

The motion states: “This House believes that the Government should stop the planned cut in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in April and give certainty today to the six million families for whom it is worth an extra £1,000 a year.”

Sir Keir said: “Families across the UK have spent the past year worried for their loved ones, their jobs and their family’s security.

“Millions of people have had to juggle childcare with working from home, have seen jobs or incomes cut or been excluded from self-employed support.

“If we don’t give a helping hand to families through this pandemic, then we are going to slow our economic recovery as we come out of it.

“We began 2021 with one of the worst death tolls in Europe and the deepest recession of any major economy.

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“Without action from Government, millions of families face a £1,000 per year shortfall in the midst of a historic crisis.

“We urge Boris Johnson to change course and give families certainty today that their incomes will be protected.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds, meanwhile, said the cut would leave “unemployment support at a 30-year low in the midst of a jobs crisis and threaten our economic recovery”.

In a letter to his opposite number Therese Coffey, he said: “For the Government to abstain on whether people can afford to pay their bills would force unnecessary uncertainty on already struggling families.

“On behalf of the Labour Party, I offer you our support if you chose to put aside party politics and work with us to support families through the pandemic.”

In a statement released by the Conservatives, Ms Coffey said Labour would “scrap Universal Credit” and “leave millions of people with an uncertain future”.

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